25 Years of WHR
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- SATI SYSTEM (PRACTICE)
Sati is an obsolete funeral custom where a widow immolates herself on her husband’s pyre or takes her own life in any another way shortly after her husband’s death. This practice was widely accepted from 10th to 18th century in the Indian Sub Continent. This horrible tradition also thrived in Nepal until its abolition in 1920 A.D by then Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana. During the Lichchavi regime in Nepal, for the first time, Queen of Late King Mandev revolted to go to Sati. Yogmaya Neupane, a religious leader, women’s right activist and poet, founded the first organization of Nepali women, the Nari Samiti for women's rights in 1918 A.D, which was considered to be the main lobby behind the abolition of the Sati System in Nepal in 1920 A.D. When the sati system was abolished, the widows got to live their life even after their husband’s death but the status of widows was still largely predominant by the patriarchy in the country.
- BORN AGAIN- AS WIDOWS
The death of a husband marks the painful transition from a wife to a widow that relegates her to a state of being physically alive but socially dead. Even though, the practice known as Sati, such extreme forms of rejection have been abolished, nevertheless, discriminations and prejudices are still rampant against widows in our society. Inhumane cultural practices, restrictions on food and clothes, mobility, remarriage, access to property, right to choice was completely denied. Physical, economical, political, psychological and sexual violence perpetuated against widows. A woman is first born as a daughter, and then she becomes a wife and a mother after marriage and again she is reborn as a widow right after immediate death of her husband.
Milestone 1: Widows Movement in Nepal
Lily was a 29 year old widow, going through all the social codes of conduct silently and following the existing social norms. But, when she met Laxmi, at Godawari who shared her story of becoming a widow, she was disheartened to hear her story on how her in laws were treating her inhumanly. This stirred an idea to start some safe space, which would help such women to share their feelings, to shed tears and get sisterhood support among each other. This was the turning point in the life of Lily and the reason why WHR exists today.
Milestone 2: Started INFORMAL HEARING PLATFORM (1992-1994 A.D.)
This forum started as a sharing and a vent out space to share the grief and the daily challenges faced as widows. Initially, it started from Lily’s house as a Sunday gathering with 6-7 widows. By the end of 1994, there were more than 50 widows coming and sharing their experiences and grief in the Sunday meetings in Rose Bud School in Ghattekulo.
- Many common and specific issues of widows were found.
- A platform to find solutions to their prevailing problems and the need of starting it formally was realized.
- The process of formal registration initiated.
Milestone 3: Formal registration of WHR
The formal registration was decided but none of the widows coming in the informal sessions had courage to give their citizenship. Lily with the encouragement and support from her brother Kiroj Man Singh Basnyat gathered citizenship of her mother and relatives, which led to the registration of the organization. The organization was registered at Kathmandu DAO, and Social Welfare Council in 1995 with the registration number 660051052.
Lily with the support from her friends Rama Shrestha, Amita Adhikary and Sharmila Karki for the first time decided to rent an office for WHR in Ghattekulo. The organization aimed to empower widows legally, socially and economically. Soon after registration of WHR at central level, different branches started establishing in various districts taking approval from CDO office. Later, WHR started working actively in all districts in close coordination with different stakeholders.
- More than 1, 00,000 members in 2550 village councils from all over Nepal are a part of WHR.
- Previously hidden issue and population has now been widely acknowledged and mainstreamed into the plans and policies of the government.
Milestone 4: Analyzing socio-cultural practices
The need to review the religious books was felt as the actions were mostly depended on the religious and cultural practices. So, the University of Delhi was referred along with the reviewing of holy scripts from Banaras such as Garud Puran, Manusmritii and other observations.
There was no holy book that had perpetuated the code of conducts for widows. No religion has mentioned that widows have to be discriminated on the basis of marital status and remarriage is a sin. There was prohibition of red color for widows just because they looked attractive to others in that color. Non vegetarian food was also restricted because it has high protein and might increase the sexuality of the women. The concept of widows bringing bad luck was just to make them invisible within household chores. Ultimately, the reason of all these code of conducts was to control on the sexuality and mobility of the widows along with their human rights. The need to aware stakeholders and the widows was realized and a dialogue was discoursed taking help from religious leaders.
Milestone 5: National Workshop in Kathmandu and in Jhapa
Initially, the widows’ women representatives from 18 districts gathered at Staff College for the first ever national workshop in 2063 B.S. The terminology ‘Ekal Mahila” was coined after commencing the first National Workshop conducted by WHR in Staff Administration College, Jawalakhel. At Kalbalgudi, Jhapa, the first workshop outside Kathmandu was conducted along with other representatives from the remaining districts joining with the support from SNV Nepal. After the workshop, Maun Rodan, first ever book on the lives of widows was published where founders, board members and then staff contributed on the writing.
Milestone 6: Single Women Group Expansion
Before national workshop, the WHR team had reached out to the districts on their own and formed groups. After the two workshops, all the representatives from the districts started forming groups in their respective districts. The tools used for the group expansion were door to door campaign, discussion with the mother-in-laws, monthly meetings and forming a network at local level.
The groups formed the executive committee within the groups for the governance with the mandate that widows are MUST within executive committee. They started functioning as a branch of WHR in the districts. The groups started forming beyond the initial 18 districts from the ward level to VDC and the municipal level.
Milestone 7: First research of its kind- Status of Single Women
The need to understand the demographic situation, socio-economic and political status was felt. In 2003-2004, the research on the demographic status of single women was conducted in 17 districts of Nepal and report was produced with the support from Action Aid Nepal.
The overall status of single women in the districts was recognized. The facts, findings and the different needs and challenges of single women were also known. Important evidence for policy advocacy was generated. Moreover, 25 years of vision planning for WHR was created based on the policy generated.
Milestone 8: Programmatic Expansion
Based on the study, establishment of important units for single women with economic and social support was done. Single women entrepreneur group was also established for the income generation and livelihood support. Also, Micro credit program Aadhar was started to support single women to have financial independence. Opportunity fund program was started to support the scholarship to the children of single women.Now, the program slowly started replicating in single women groups as SWEG, Aadhar and Opportunity Fund. Today, many saving credit has turned to cooperatives called Hamro Aadhar. SWEG has been established legally as CWEH. Opportunity fund have been able to support more than 3000 children of single women till the year 2018.
Milestone 9: Single women empowerment
For the empowerment of single women rapid group expansion was called for the capacity development of single women in various fronts. Social mobilization classes were needed and the Sahayogi classes were conducted every week using the Sahayogi Saathi book – called 55 dance steps. The topics were of wide range-- group formation, saving and credit, entrepreneur skill, advocacy international and national human rights instruments, government structures and the stakeholders. Amita, Rama, Neera, Pushpa, Kunda and Nirmala with the technical support from Charan Prasai and Bandhu Ranjan produced Sahayogi saathi booklet and started running Sahayogi Saathi classes sensitizing single women groups at grass root level with the support from Danida Hugou.
At districts hundreds of Sahayogi Saathis, Para Counselors, and Para legal were trained and mobilized. They are well recognized in their community as agents of change and are respected. The young generation of single women leaders from different districts was identified and trained series wise as catalysts.
Many catalysts are the second-generation leaders of the single women movement in Nepal. The Sahayogi Saathi mobilization model is well appreciated and adopted. Many of the local single women group leaders are in the government and semi government/ semi formal or formal decision-making levels. More than 160 single women members of WHR got elected in the local level election of 2017 B.S
Milestone 10: Red Color Movement
The red color movement fueled up with the first national workshop of WHR organized in 2063 B.S where participants used the name tag with red ribbon. Breaking the taboo of colorless life, slowly the movement encouraged single women to restart wearing colorful clothes. WHR launched a red color campaign in open ground of Bardiya on 2064 B.S with the initiation of Mangala Devi Shrestha and Durga Devi Sapkota, who gathered and informed whole mass about the importance of color in people’s life. Slowly, the movement passed on to different districts where widows celebrated putting on red tika, bangles in front of the family and whole community. These events are still organized time and again for the community awareness and have been a major success. The event was organized after sensitizing the families to offer colors to their widowed daughter in laws. The Red Color Movement was initiated from the single women group of Bardiya district.
This movement is about defying the discriminatory practices against single women and beginning a new era for single women.
Milestone 11: Policy Breakthrough
WHR has lobbied and advocated for changing various discriminatory legal polices and has succeeded in changing few of those discriminatory laws which are as follows;
Single Women have to be 35 years of age to inherit property.
No need to be 35 years to inherit property.
After remarriage , single women have to relinquish the property of her first husband
Right to retain deceased husband’s property after remarriage.
Single women need consent from the male member of her family to obtain passport.
Right to obtain passport without male consent
Single women need the permission of her son over 16 years and unmarried daughter to sell or hand over her share of property
Right to sell or transfer ownership without the permission of her adult children
Single women need to remain in chastity in order to claim for her deceased husband’s property
The definition of chastity was not clear and now the word ‘chastity’ has been removed
Single women (widows) were entitled to get monthly allowances after the age of 60 years only
Single women (widows) need not be 60 years to get allowances
Single women (widows) issues have been incorporated in the Red Book of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare which means that single women’s issues are one of the priority issues to be addressed by government.
WHR is able to incorporate single women issues in 10th and 11th five year plan as well as the three year interim plan of the government for the first time and continuing the same till date.
The issue of single women has been reflected in the Directive Principles and Policies of the Interim Constitution 2006 which later on incorporated in the fundamental rights in Constitution of Nepal 2015.
Single women’s issue is addressed also in the 15th five year plan of the country on 2019. WHR is a steering committee member for the high level working committee of the NAP implementation in Nepal. Currently, founder of WHR is serving as a Think Tank member of Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizen.
Milestone 12: Single women data inclusion in National Census
National Census 2011 included single women’s related question in its questionnaire and the data was collected after the continuous effort from Lily, Neera and Pushpa. The single women related questions have been included in every household survey questionnaire after various consultative meetings with Census Department NPC and other government line ministries. This has been an achievement of WHR who had lobbied with Central Bureau of statistics, Nepal from four years for engendering data.
First time the proper data on single women was collected and documented at national level. According to census 2010, 5.8% are the widows among the women population; where 67% are in between 20 to 35 years of age having 3 to 4 children in an average. And, the census reports that 86% widows are illiterate. Nepal is the second country in South Asia to have data on widows after India.
Milestone 13: Social protection for single women
- Monthly Allowance for Single women
Single women did not have any support from the government as measures of social protection before the announcement of then Prime Minister Manmohan Adhikari. Later, single women above the age of 60 were provided with monthly allowance of Rs. 500 since then. WHR in coordination with Pro Public filed a writ in Supreme Court for the allowance indiscriminate of the age and in 2013 the court with the joint ijalash of ‘stay order’ ordered to remove the age barrier.
Any single woman after the death of the husband can register her name in the local ward and is eligible to receive the government decided monthly allowance irrespective of their age.
- Social protection fund for single women
There were no funds at the central level to support single women in need. WHR lobbied with the government to convert the fund allocated for the remarriage policy as the single women protection fund at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. The committee was set up to guide the distribution process.
WHR is a part of the committee at the central level and plays an active role in the decision making process. Today, many single women of all five categories, widows, women with missing husband, women who is 35 years above and unmarried, women who is divorced and women who is separated from her husband can have access to this fund. The guidelines are set up for to make the distribution process easy and the systematic throughout the nation.
- PROPOSAL for monetary incentives for widow’s remarriage
In the Budget 2066/67 B.S. (2009/10), under the Poverty Alleviation and Empowerment Point No. 63, announced that a couple marrying a single woman (widow) would receive NRs. 50,000 to encourage remarriage of single women (widows). Several campaigns, protests, meetings, dialogues were organized to protest this decision. More than 2000 single women and allies gathered infront of the Singhadurbar and parliament to protest against this policy. WHR went ahead with filing the writ against the government at the Supreme Court for Show Cause and ‘Stay Order’. On 13 October 2009 Honorable Justice Khim Lal Regmi made a decision and gave a “show cause order to government with priority”. Similarly on 19thJanuary, 2010, under the joint bench of Honorable Justice Balaram K.C. and Honorable Justice Girish Lal Karna, made a decision for the ‘STAY ORDER’.
Government decided to use this fund for collective support of single women in need.
Milestone 14: WHR- Institutional
WHR started forming groups and district committees with consensus or with the election process. In the year 2010 A.D., WHR set up 5 regional networks in the country inline with the political division of the country. In the year 2018 A.D., WHR restructured the regional networks to the provincial networks and started operating accordingly. All the networks are set up following the election procedures among the single women district committees. WHR adopted the decentralized approach as created units that closely worked with the government structure.
These structures have supported to strengthen the advocacy. This has given strategic direction to the organization and the groups nationwide. The access to local resources and the accountability of service provider and seekers are checked and balanced.
Milestone 15: Regional Networks SANWED
South Asian Network for Widows Empowerment in Development (SANWED) formed from an informal discussion between Margaret Owen from UK, Anuradha Wickramsinghe from Srilanka, Dr. Felix from India and Lily Thapa from Nepal in 2006 A.D. After forming the SANWED, WHR has organized 5 international and regional conferences in 2006, 2010, 2013 and 2017 respectively. WHR along with other SANWED member countries lobbied for the widowhood issues and government accountability since the establishment.
With the lobby from SANWED, the issues of widowhood were addressed and state obligation was mentioned in the point 32 of Colombo declaration in 2008 A.D. SANWED has membership of more than 10 organizations working in the issues of widowhood and representing South Asian Countries now. SANWED members with ECOSOC status along with global network also jointly submit written statement in CSW every year since 2011 A.D.
Milestone 16: International Network and Outreach
WHR Receives ECOSOC Status at United Nation since July 2011. Since 2011, WHR with other organizations with ECOSOC status are advocating in the global level to address issues and problems of widowhood. WHR chapter in USA is registered as WHR Inc. 501c in 2013. Since 2010 A.D. WHR is celebrating International Widows Day as propounded by United Nations on 23rd June every year. WHR with other women alliances together lobbied to address issues of widowhood in different conventions and declarations such as CEDAW, BPFA, UNSCR 1325 and 1820, UN SDGs.
Milestone 17: WHR –Central Level Chhahari
WHR at central have worked throughout to have own Chhahari for the office administration as well as for the rehabilitation –safe space for single women through out the country. The Chhahari also serve as resource center where the documentation and the knowledge hub are operated. Chhahari also built its own premises with the aim to be self dependent.
WHR have been successful in constructing Chhahari in 19 districts and providing services of counseling, legal service and skill trainings to those who are in need.
WHR in districts raise funds using various fund raising schemes such as cultural program, seven days of Saptah ( ritual), motorcycle rallies, collecting one rupee from each ticket of Yeti Airlines and collecting contribution from members to make Chhahari. WHR with the technical support from the Nepal Government and Financial support from the Embassy of India constructed central level Chhahari in Kathmandu with the aim to provide holistic support to the survivors of violence.
Milestone 18: PUBLICATIONS
Many publications have been produced since the establishment till now. Some publications published by the Founder are listed below:
- Developed curriculum on Women, Peace and Security through Curriculum Department of Nepal Government-2017
- Developed Handbook on Women, Peace and Security 2012
- Developed book on Status of Single Women in Nepal - 2010
- Developed book on An Understanding on Gender – 2008
- Developed book on Role of Women for Peace building in Nepal - 2008
- Developed Shahayatra- an experience with Single Women in Nepal- 2008
- Many Articles, Research Report published in journals, newspapers and others.
Milestone 19: AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS
WHR, Founder of the organization, staffs and the leaders of single women groups have been honored with many awards and recognition at national and regional level. Some awards received by the founder are:
- Awarded by Janprabal Kirti by The Honorable President of Nepal 2019
- Awarded with a Gorkha Dakshin Bahu by the Honorable President of Nepal 2013.
- Awarded by Modi Women Leadership Award 2016 by Stree Shakti India
- Awarded by Influential Women of the Year 2018 by International Lions Club
- Woman Manager of the Year 2006 from Management Association of Nepal (MAN)
- Recipient of the International Ashoka Fellowship USA in 2006 on leadership.
- Awarded with “Shakti Award” by Creative Statement
- Awarded “Social worker of the year” by Gorkha Samaj Kendra
- Recipient of Synergos Fellow USA in 2010 on activism and leadership role played in the community.
- Awarded as “Best Social Entrepreneur 2006” by the Boss Magazine
- Awarded " Social Worker of the Year 2008" by Badri Bikram Guthi
- Awarded as "Women in Leadership"2009 by Nai Prathisthan